Art of Nick and Benji, who our autistic transgender writer found solace in. Art created by Andrew Joseph White.
Art of Nick and Benji, who our autistic transgender writer found solace in. Art created by Andrew Joseph White.

I adored books as a child but had always struggled to find characters I could really relate to or who thought like me. I felt very alone and like there was something deeply wrong with me. This carried on through into my adulthood with all characters in fiction feeling like aliens to me. That is until my friend recommended a horror book by autistic transgender author, Andrew Joseph White.

I am an autistic transgender person, and this is not a rare combination. There are perhaps more openly transgender people among autistic populations than non-autistic, but for some reason, autistic transgender people are still invisible. We are mostly erased from the media and mass culture. So even though Horror is not my genre and I had my doubts about Whit’es first award-winning novel “Hell Followed With Us”, I found myself pleasantly surprised.

Andrew Joseph White’s writing is exactly what I needed when I was younger. After reading “Hell Followed With Us” I also read “The Spirit Bares Its Teeth” which became just as important to me. Not just because the protagonist is an autistic transgender boy but also because I personally relate to many of the experiences in it, which I’m sure I’m not alone in.

In this article, I want to bring your attention not just to the importance of representation for Autistic and transgender people, but also on some crucial aspects of White’s writing that shed light on four big problems that transgender and autistic teenagers are facing nowadays in the real world. It is especially important now, when conversations about transgender youth’s rights divide society, and conservatives try to take away our agency.


Religious trauma. Autistic and trans* perspectives.

I was born in Donetsk, Ukraine, in 1995. My family was extremely Christian by local standards as most families didn’t even know basic Biblical stories as a result of the Soviet’s religious prohibition. Meanwhile my dad was studying the writings of the Holy Fathers and listening to lectures from leading Christian Orthodox seminaries.

Our acquaintances used to ask his advice on religious matters. Neighbours, family friends and folks he knew from church considered my Dad to be a righteous man, but his religious endocrination was a torture for me.

No wonder that I instantly recognised myself in Benji from “Hell Followed with Us,”  whose mother was a senior member of a Christian ultra-conservative Angelic Movement.

The recognition began in the first lines: “Here’s the thing about being raised an Angel: You don’t process grief.”

Actually in cult environments like that you don’t really process any emotions. One of my most vivid memories of my late teenage years is the time I told my father I was scared. I was having an extremely difficult time; I figured out I might be autistic and was secretly fighting with my own gender dysphoria. My mother had just given birth to my sibling and I was running a fever with a temperature of 40’C. I was literally shaking and hallucinating; scared that I was cursed by God.

All of which combined to make me silly enough to be open about my fears and ask for my father’s help. Instead of support, he yelled at me; “God does not love the fearful”. Then he forced me to drink Holy water and pray before he bought me some medicine. Experiences like this meant I couldn’t process things like grief, fear doubts or any other normal human feelings that my family would consider sinful.

I was also denied a diagnosis of autism, in part because of this. My father would blame “the devil” for all my problems and suggest that I had to “overcome my differences” in order to reach God’s kingdom in Heaven. It is extremely similar to the way that the autistic gay boy Nick from “Hell Followed With Us” was treated in Angel’s community.

When parents fall into religious fundamentalism or different kinds of cults – whether that be the Christian Orthodoxy I was raised under, ISIS or even Q-Anon – the first victims are often their own children. A horrendous fact on its own but one made worse when we remember that many of these kids will be autistic and/or LGBTQIA+.

In Conservative interpretations of Abrahamic religion both autistic and trans* people are told that they deserve eternal suffering just for being ourselves. Andrew Joseph White’s story of a mother turning her child into a weapon of mass distruction is part of a fictional narrative but for me it mirrors the way I felt as an autistic transgender child growing up.

In close cults and authoritarian religious societies children often suffer from domestic violence, and no one helps them especially if the child is queer. This kind of behavior is approved by the community. Even when physical violence not involved, parents often work to make their queer and neurodivergent children hate themselves, and mess up their minds in the name of God.

It’s amazing how correctly Andrew Joseph White explained the way religious trauma could manifest itself in a person, even if this person, like Benji is not prone to religiosity.

When everyone is telling you from a young age that your perspective of the world is wrong and the creator of the universe would hate you for being youself, living in a religious community is not possible. Even escaping the physical prison doesn’t guarantee you will find an easy escape from the metnal one and could easily fall into the spiral of self-blaming, doubting yourself and fear again.


Unsupportive family issues (and justification for parental abuse)

The culture I grew up in was very family-centric. The messages we receive from media like family films, Disney cartoons and celebrity magazines all promote idealistic parent-kid relationships where everyone is happy, straight, cisgender and neurotypical.

There’s an attitude of “if your parents hate you, the shame is on you” no matter what the reason is. If for example you estranged your parents due to abuse then our society would pressure you to change your attitude, not them.

By law children are the de facto property of their legal guardian. Combined with the attitude from society that leaving your parents means there’s something wrong with you not them; a lot of children and adults end up victims of abuse by parents.

This is bad enough with cis het and neurotypical children, but could be literally life-threatening with regards to autistic transgender children. There is, sadly, no shortage of examples where autistic kids and kids with other disabilites have been killed by parents or carers. With media representation leaning sympathetic towards the parents or carers for their actions.

The same is true for transgender kids, who are more likely to be killed or mutilated by their parents than their cisgender peers.

But all the same, parents of autistic and transgender kids are often portrayed as martyrs, and stories about our lives and tragedies became stories about our parents’ suffering in the press. The media loves to make them into heroes for not kicking us out, bullying us or trying to break us. They are praised for their “acceptance” for doing what is considered the bare minimum with regards to cis het neurotypical kids.

Both of the main characters in Andrew Joseph White’s “Hell Followed With Us” come from family associated with the ultra-conservative group “The Angels”. Benji, a transgender boy has a supportive father but understands why Nick, Benji’s autistic boyfriend, has estranged himself from both of his parents and doesn’t judge him for it.

Benji and Nick learn from each other as the story progresses which allows Benji to see more clearly how he is being abused by his controlling mother. He stops justifying her actions just because they are family and even makes the tough decision to thwart his mother’s plans to bring on Armageddon, knowing that his mother is likely to die because of his actions.

White’s writing in “The Spirit Bares Its Teeth” takes a bit of a departure from these themes of close family ties with autistic transgender boy Silas having never been close to any of his parents. Many of the children in this book have problematic family histories without this being exagerrated into the parents being supervillains like Marvel’s “Runaways” or caricatures like Harry Potter’s Dursley family. Silas can even recollect times where his mother was supportive which contrast against horrors like forced marriage and tutoring with the aim of forcing Silas to behave like a neurtypical girl.

As someone who estranged myself from my own family I am often asked if there was anything good in my relationshp with them?” And of course there was some good, but just because my parents weren’t like the Evil Stepmother from Snow White, it doesn’t mean that the abuse and violence wasn’t real.

The moments of support for Silas are a grey which for me helped bring into focus the darkness of how actual abuse works in real life.


Pathologization and internalized hatred.

Nowadays in the queer and autistic communities there’s a lot of talk about self-love and acceptance, but acceptance is a bit of a tricky thing. It’s much easier to say love and accept yourself than do it in a world that hates and fears us so much.

Andrew Joseph White’s writing of Silas and Benji mirrors my own youth. As a teen I struggled with the fact that my views differed so much from the adults around me and just like those characters, this created a lot of self-doubt.

This self-doubt meant it took nearly 20 years to accept my transgender identity. My acceptance of my autism didn’t come easily either. I was devastated when I first found out, reading everything I could find about autism in Russian – very few of which gave me any hope of “acceptance”.

I started to search for autism resources in English and created the first Russian-language website for autism which doesn’t pathologise autistic people.

So I relate to Nick, who is leading a group of queer teenagers in a post apocalyptic future, a lot. Despite all his success as a leader, he is still battling internalised ableism. He knows that his parents are wrong about autism, just as he knows that they are wrong about their eco-fascist views. But his self-doubts are sometime stronger than his logic.

Similarly Silas was raised in a world where people like him – any violet eyed people with supernatural abilities – were seen as potentially dangerous and sick, if they were not privileged cisgender men.

For me it’s not just a story about mutants who can speak with ghosts being punished for that in the absence of privilege. To me it’s something more; a perfect metaphor for the way in which trans and autistic people are treated differently for the things we are good at.

In the real world I’ve seen this with how conservatives treat cis people who are interested in working with children vs trans people who are interested in working with children. The trans person is far more likely to be considered dangerous on the basis of their transgender identity alone.

I’ve also noticed this when a neurotypical child is deeply interested in science where the child is then called “gifted” and encouraged. Whereas a neurodivergent or autistic child shows the same level of interest it’s labelled as an “obsession” and discouraged.

Silas is trans*, autistic and has violet eyes. An inner voice which White writes as a “Rabbit” that lives inside him forms and torments him. Repeating hateful stereotypes and reinforcing those that his autism or transgender identity are bad. Something which I also relate to through my own experience with dissociative identity disorder (DID).

I have a similar voice, a similar inner-personality, telling me over and over again how I’m wrong about myself. I don’t know if White has any understanding of DID or not but his portrayal of Rabbit is the closest to a persecutor-alter I have ever seen in any media work, including ones specifically written about DID.

DID can often be triggered by severe trauma in childhood like the kind which many autistic transgender youth will be subjected to in one form or another. So for me including this portrayal was an important part of what makes the representation in White’s writing so good.

Invisibility and wrong kind of representation.


“She is like me, and I am safe”. This is what Silas was thinking when his betrothed came out to him as a transgender girl.

I can’t help but feel the same whils treading Andrew Joseph White’s books. An overwhelming sense that those kids are exactly like me, they move like me, flap their hands, fidget and in many ways think just like me. We are both transgender and neurodivergent, we are safe.

I’ve been doing pro-neurodiversity and queer activism for nearly 8 years now and I’ve met so many autistic queer people from Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, UK and the USA. If I had to pick one thread that united all of us it would be the feeling of loneliness and alienation. Many of us feel like there is no place for us in society and even in queer communities we are often invisible.

Stories about transgender people in the mainstream media and even in niche queer fiction mostly feature neurotypical people. Almost all autistic characters are white cisgender men. Its extremely frustrating because media portrayals massively impact how we see ourselves in society and how society see us too. Problems which White’s characters often find themselves up against.

In other media autistic people are infantilised and transgender people reduced to nothing but expressions of gender dysphoria. Andrew Joseph White’s media avoids all of that delivering developed characters who feel complex and alive. Characters which feel so much deeper than representation elsewhere with over simplifications of the barriers and issues marginalised youth often find themselves up against.

Throughout the story society tries its best to reassert control over Benji, Nick and Silas in order to make them more submissive and convenient. But the youths refuse to accept injustice and are angry with a rage that could shake the world. A rage that is openly celebrated in the text.


White dedicated Hell Followed With Us to “the kids who sharpen their teeth and bite”. I think this is a beautifully poignant dedication in a time where our politicians are doing everything to restrict transgender teenagers from being themselves.

I hope to see more writing from autistic transgender authors following Andrew Joseph White’s writing making it to the New York Times best seller list. I hope that new generations of kids will get to read about how we are here and we are real people – not just some “special interest” story for the tabloids.

Check out more of our reviews sourced from the trans community here. Or perhaps fanfiction is more your speed, we’ve got you covered!